Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Books

Humorist and writer Dave Barry talks politics — it's an election year after all

Dave Barry is running for president.

"Of course, who isn't?" he says. "I'm not running in the sense that I'm out there inflicting my views on people. More in the sense of staying home and accepting cash contributions."

Barry, the longtime syndicated humor columnist, author of 30 books and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1988, will be in the Tampa Bay area this week to talk about politics and more.

"Laughing Your Way Through the Presidential Campaign: An Evening With Dave Barry" on Wednesday in St. Petersburg at the Poynter Institute (which owns the Tampa Bay Times) will feature dinner with the humorist and an onstage Q&A by Poynter vice president Roy Peter Clark. The evening will be capped by a jam session including Barry, Clark and other journalist-musicians, sort of a localized version of Barry's longtime rock band of authors, the Rock Bottom Remainders. "There better not be more than three chords, though. I have a contract."

In a phone conversation, Barry, 64, says he is glad to learn the title of his talk. "I was going to call it 50 Shades of Grey, but I heard that's taken."

Running for president isn't his only connection to politics, although he has done it several times before. "Over the years I've gone to all the political conventions. I haven't missed one since 1984," Barry says, and he often covered politics in his columns for the Miami Herald. He still writes for that newspaper occasionally, although he stopped writing weekly columns in 2005.

During the current campaign, he says, "Almost all of the humor has been on the Republican side. Everybody ran, hundreds of people, everybody except the people they wanted to run."

The 2012 campaign is notable, he says, for the general lack of enthusiasm. "I heard somebody say, why don't we just vote next week? We know who the guys are. Do we really have to go through six months of this? It's going to be vicious and bitter and negative. It would save a lot of hate if we just vote now."

But he's covering the conventions anyway, just part of a busy summer. Barry's wife, Michelle Kaufman, is a Miami Herald sportswriter, and both of them will be in London to cover the Olympics.

Much of Barry's time these days, though, is spent writing books, many of them collaborative projects. He recently wrote a novel, Lunatic, with comedy writer Alan Zweibel, "although 'write' is kind of a strong term for that book."

He has also written "a bunch" of bestselling novels with thriller author Ridley Pearson, all of them young adult fiction.

One is Peter and the Starcatchers, the first in a four-book series about Peter Pan. The book has been turned into a hit Broadway play, Peter and the Starcatcher, which has been nominated for nine Tony awards.

"The better it does, the more I associate myself with it," Barry says, "but the credit really goes to Rick Elice," who adapted it for the stage.

"I was amazed by the way they did it. I never in a million years would have thought of it. It's not like anything I've seen; it's sort of like English vaudeville, lots of wordplay, and just funny. It's much funnier than our book."

Barry and Pearson are working on a new YA trilogy, Nowhere, set in the future. Barry lives in Miami, while Pearson is based in St. Louis and travels frequently. Barry says, "We do sit down together to plot the books, or Skype. We spend a lot of time hammering it out. That's critical with two writers, so no one goes off on a wild tangent, which I would do."

Barry has also just completed a novel, Insane City, which will be published in January. "I managed to write it all by myself.

"It's a comic novel, but with a little bit of a serious plot complication. I'd say the plotting is more P.G. Wodehouse than Marcel Proust, who's my other big inspiration."

His summer also will include one more performance with the Rock Bottom Remainders. Founded in 1992, the band debuted at the American Booksellers Association convention in Anaheim, Calif., and has since played benefit performances around the country. Its membership has varied, but core members include bestselling authors Mitch Albom, Roy Blount Jr., Greg Iles, Stephen King, Amy Tan and Scott Turow, as well as Barry and Pearson.

Barry has said of their performances, "This band plays music as well as Metallica writes novels," but the authors have a rockin' good time on stage, with King singing the spooky Teen Angel and Tan donning black leather gear for These Boots Are Made for Walkin'.

They will play one more time in June at the American Library Association's convention in Anaheim, Barry says. "It's been 20 years. We're getting older. It's harder to get everyone all together."

So they'll finish where they began. "Rather than just dribble off, we thought we'd end it with a big final concert. Unlike the Rolling Stones, whom we're often compared with."

Colette Bancroft can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435.

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